By Melissa Arnold

Ask Sally Anne Keller what she loves most about painting with watercolors, and she’ll give an interesting response: She says it’s like painting backward.

“There’s no white paint in watercolor, so if you want to have a white cloud in your piece, for example, you have to paint around the area you want it to go. It’s a little tricky, and I enjoy that,” said Keller, 53, of Rocky Point.

The artist fell in love with painting when she was just a little girl, and since then her work has appeared in galleries, libraries, hotels and local businesses. Her next event is a solo exhibit entitled Atmospheric Watercolors, appearing at the North Shore Public Library in Shoreham for the month of December.

“I grew up with a single mom and she worked a lot, and I was always doodling or painting something. Then one day when I was in elementary school, we had an art class about watercolors. That was it for me,” she recalled.

‘Path to Beach’

Aside from public school art classes, Keller is entirely self-taught, gathering much of her painting expertise from poring over books. Her family was supportive, she said, and pushed her to create and share whatever she could.

Ultimately, Keller began a career in the insurance industry, working jobs in various parts of the field for 30 years. On the weekends, she works as a consultant at an art gallery. And of course, whenever she can steal a few moments to herself, she’s painting in her home studio.

“You can be your own worst critic, and to hear other people say that they enjoy your work feels really good,” Keller said about the exhibition process. Her first exhibit a decade ago in Southampton brought her out of a solitary hobby and into the local art scene.

She’s now a part of the North Shore Art Guild and loves selling her work at affordable prices to raise money for causes close to her heart. Even the infamous radio host Howard Stern has purchased one of Keller’s paintings — at the time, he shared that he enjoyed painting with watercolors himself.

“I love getting people together, especially when it can help other people at the same time,” she said. “I’ve donated to veterans’ causes, animal rescues, and children’s hospitals in the past.”

With Atmospheric Watercolors, Keller has selected about a dozen watercolor paintings of varied sizes that depict Long Island landscapes. What makes her work special, she said, is the way she tries to pull viewers into the scene.

“I’m really into nature — I see shapes, shadows, and colors in ways that most people overlook. I like to create pieces that make you feel what you see. If it’s a sunny day, then I want you to be able to feel the warmth. If it’s a storm, you might feel the heaviness of the clouds coming in or smell the rain,” Keller said. “If people can experience that by looking at my work, then it makes me happy.”

Currently, the Holiday Inn Express Stony Brook, located at 3131 Nesconset Hwy. in Centereach, is featuring a collection of works from the North Shore Art Guild. The exhibit includes several of Keller’s paintings. All the artwork on display is for sale, and proceeds from sales of those pieces will benefit Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. 

Vito Marrone, incoming president of the North Shore Art Guild, met the watercolor artist when he first joined the organization in 2011. At the time, Keller was participating in a mixed exhibit of more than 50 artists. Marrone recalls Keller’s work catching his eye right away.

 “We have some really great artists that are part of the North Shore Art Guild, and Sally is one of them. I’ve had the chance to take classes with her and she’s so good at what she does,” he said. “Watercolor is difficult, and she’s taught me a lot about how to engineer a watercolor and maintain control of the paint so that the finished piece comes out well.”

Keller’s work has been featured in several exhibits at the North Shore Public Library, and Adult Program Coordinator Lorena Doherty said they’re excited to welcome her back again.

“Sally is a skilled watercolor artist. Her work is direct, and luscious in the use of color and light,” Doherty said. “Sally has a way of isolating the beauty of nature and creating the feeling of standing inside the work, not just on the outside looking in. Atmospheric artwork is timeless and enduring, and the exhibit is a beautiful addition to the library.”

For those interested in meeting Keller and learning more about working with watercolor, she will host a demonstration at the library on Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. All are welcome and the event is free.

North Shore Public Library, 250 Route 25A, Shoreham will present Atmospheric Watercolors throughout the month of December. For library hours and more information, please call 631-929-4488. 

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